The third edition of the Clio R3T Trophy France was won by the Team Bonneton crew of Cédric Robert and Matthieu Duval. Despite winning five out of six rallies, the two men still had to use all their expertise to beat the contingent of hungry, talented young drivers led by Florian Bernardi !
At 44 years old, Cédric Robert has a good deal of experience in rallying. As a 16 year-old, he sat in the co-driver seat next to his father before beginning to compete in a Simca 1000 Rallye once he had passed his driving test.
The Saint-Étienne-born driver then enjoyed considerable success in the promotional formulas. His role as works driver at Peugeot then enabled him to fight for the title in the FFSA French Rally Championship, but he also competed in the JWRC and enjoyed some fine performances in the WRC, such as the fifth place he racked up at Rallye Deutschland in 2004.
In 2005, he finished fifth in the FFSA French Rally Championship and won the Rallye d’Antibes in a privately-run Renault Clio S1600. Promoted to Renault works driver, he came close to winning the title the following year thanks to his incredible consistency before contributing to the development of the new Renault Clio R3, whilst continuing to provide fans with plenty of entertainment on the stages.
He then left Renault Sport to return to racing in WRCs and S2000s, but he was soon back competing in promotional formulas. A return to his roots that led this year to him competing in the Renault Clio R3T Trophy France...
A return guided by pleasure and affordability
After such an eclectic career, what exactly could have motivated Cédric Robert to compete in Clio R3T Trophy France ?
"On the one hand, I really wanted to enjoy myself this season," he admitted. "On the other hand, I think that the Clio R3T Trophy France offers a really good formula. The prize money is attractive and the prize for the winner – a Clio R.S. – is really nice. Lastly, we knew that if were among the leaders, we would be able to cover most of the cost of our season. That’s always a big plus when things are tough financially and Renault has adapted perfectly to this requirement by favouring prize money over works drives."
Review and reassess
Very quickly, Cédric Robert showed why he has earned himself such a good reputation. Despite his lack of experience in the Clio R3T, he managed to beat Florian Bernardi after a magnificent fight at the Rallye Le Touquet Pas-de-Calais. The Frenchman kept his unbeaten record going at the Rallye Antibes Côte d’Azur and the Rallye Aveyron Rouergue Occitanie, still pushed by a Florian Bernardi determined to beat his experienced rival.
The turning point may have come after the summer break. At the Rallye Mont-Blanc Morzine, Florian Bernardi was in scintillating form, winning ten stages out of twelve, but the young Vaucluse driver went off on the Rallye Cœur de France, the penultimate round of the calendar.
From the very start of the event, the two men took it in turns to lead until Florian Bernardi went off on the Bessé-sur-Braye stage. Cédric Robert was then left clear in the lead and could manage his pace to the end. His fourth win out of five starts secured him the title, which he then celebrated in style by winning the Rallye du Var.
"Overall, my season has been very positive," assessed the driver. "I enjoyed it throughout the season, not forgetting the extraordinary atmosphere in the Clio R3T Trophy France away from the stages."
"I would have loved to have completed a clean sweep but five wins out of six isn’t too bad ! Florian Bernardi was however a formidable opponent in what was a high-quality field. All year, his pace was just as strong as mine. He wasn’t quite able to maintain it consistently through an entire rally, but I really had to push hard in order to hold him off !"
"At the Rallye du Mont-Blanc, we made a bit of a mistake in our choice of set-up. And although we decided it was better to make sure of second place, it made me review and reassess my approach, much more so than usual. We prepared for the Rallye Coeur de France just like in the old days ! I watched videos and on-board footage as if it was the first rally of my career. It helps to keep you young ! And I can still see some stages of this rally in my head, where the driver, co-driver and the car were all in perfect harmony !"
The Clio R3T lauded by Cédric Robert
"I have absolutely no regrets about the programme chosen for this year," he concluded. "The formula on offer in the Clio R3T Trophy France is really attractive with a nice car to drive and very decent prize money. I really appreciated the extent to which the organisation was committed to and involved with the competitors. That helped us to enjoy ourselves, all the more so as there was a fun, friendly atmosphere in the series as well ! I would like to thank Team Bonneton and my partners, whose work has helped us all to experience a very memorable season together !"
"On the sporting side of things, when everybody is competing in the same vehicle, aside from a few minor differences in set-up, and no one has a technical problem, it’s very important. This kind of problem can ruin the whole competition, especially when it’s a promotional formula, and we had no issues at all this year ! I really take my hat off to Renault Sport Racing for a great job ; some manufacturers would do well to follow their example !"